2106.06(b) Clear Improvement to a Technology or to Computer Functionality [R-08.2017]
As explained by the Federal Circuit, some improvements to technology or to computer functionality are not abstract when appropriately claimed, and thus claims to such improvements do not always need to undergo the full eligibility analysis. Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., 822 F.3d 1327, 1335-36, 118 USPQ2d 1684, 1689 (Fed. Cir. 2016). MPEP § 2106.05(a) provides details regarding improvements to a technology or computer functionality.
For instance, claims directed to clear improvements to computer-related technology do not need the full eligibility analysis. Enfish, 822 F.3d at 1339, 118 USPQ2d at 1691-92 (claims to a self-referential table for a computer database held eligible at step 1 of the Alice/Mayo test as not directed to an abstract idea). Claims directed to improvements to other technologies or technological processes, beyond computer improvements, may also avoid the full eligibility analysis. McRO, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games Am. Inc., 837 F.3d 1299, 1316, 120 USPQ2d 1091, 1103 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (claims to automatic lip synchronization and facial expression animation found eligible at Step 1 of the Alice/Mayo test as directed to an improvement in computer-related technology). In these cases, when the claims were viewed as a whole, their eligibility was self-evident based on the clear improvement, so no further analysis was needed. Although the Federal Circuit held these claims eligible at Step 2A as not being directed to abstract ideas, it would be reasonable for an examiner to have found these claims eligible at Pathway A based on the clear improvement, or at Pathway B (Step 2A) as not being directed to an abstract idea.
If the claims are a "close call" such that it is unclear whether the claims improve technology or computer functionality, a full eligibility analysis should be performed to determine eligibility. See BASCOM Global Internet v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 827 F.3d 1341, 1349, 119 USPQ2d 1236, 1241 (Fed Cir. 2016). Only when the claims clearly improve technology or computer functionality, or otherwise have self-evident eligibility, should the streamlined analysis be used. For example, because the claims in BASCOM described the concept of filtering content, which is a method of organizing human behavior previously found to be abstract, the Federal Circuit considered them to present a "close call" in the first step of the Alice/Mayo test (Step 2A), and thus proceeded to the second step of the Alice/Mayo test (Step 2B) to determine their eligibility. Id. Although the Federal Circuit held these claims eligible at Step 2B (Pathway C) because they presented a "technology-based solution" of filtering content on the Internet that overcame the disadvantages of prior art filtering systems and that amounted to significantly more than the recited abstract idea, it also would be reasonable for an examiner to have found these claims eligible at Pathway A or B if the examiner had considered the technology-based solution to be an improvement to computer functionality.